Feral cats in Topanga Canyon trapped

A colony of cats are discovered living in an abandoned home in Lower Topanga. Cat colonies have the potential to be a public health hazard, experts say.

By Andi Peterson/Special to The Malibu Times

Not only have humans been affected by State Parks and Recreation Department’s acquisition of Lower Topanga land and subsequent eviction of residents and businesses in the area, but animals, of the feline sort, have been left to fend for themselves as well.

Malibu resident Stacy Norris found more than a dozen feral cats living in an abandoned home. More than 30 are estimated to live in the area. Since her December discovery of the cats, Norris has taken care of them on a daily basis, spending hours of her time feeding them and successfully getting many of them to trust her. After a couple attempts at trapping the cats by herself, Norris realized that she was going to need help. Her neighbor, Spring Pace, put her in touch with Susan Clark, founder of Topanga Animal Rescue. Clark went to the site, assessed the situation, and concluded that immediate action had to be taken. Cat colonies not only have the potential to be a public health hazard, but the location of these particular cats made them easy targets for attacks by predatory animals.

“My main concern for the cats was that they were in extreme danger of coyote attacks,” Clark said. “In fact, [Norris witnessed] a coyote attack a kitten.”

“It was time to get those cats out of there,” Clark added.

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On the evening of May 20, with volunteers Ken Mazur, Rebecca Goldfarb, Jayni Schuman and two others who wished to remain anonymous, Clark and Norris went to the site to trap the cats, a task easier said than done. The team caught the first two cats by hand, and traps were then set out during the night that caught two more. Much of the same type of work throughout the weekend yielded the capture of 12 cats. Clark estimated that about 30 cats in varying degrees of “wildness” inhabit that area, and rescue attempts will be made until all are caught.

Although the cats are technically termed to be feral, it is believed that some of the cats may have at some point or another belonged to people as pets. The term feral refers to a cat that is the “wild” offspring of domesticated cats, and is primarily the result of owner abandonment or failure to spay and neuter. Feral cats tend to be elusive and distrustful of humans.

With the authorization of Malibu Animal Hospital owner Dr. Nancy Smith, Dr. Lisa Newell and her staff are treating the cats during spare time between regular business hours. All the cats will undergo tests to check for feline diseases; if the tests come up negative, the cats will then be either spayed or neutered and ready for adoption. Three cats have been treated so far. Donations will help curb the costs of the testing and the surgeries that the hospital has absorbed thus far.

“It’s great that Dr. Smith is doing this-donating her facilities and supplies. She doesn’t have to,” Newell said, noting that after their surgeries, many of the cats will be “good to go.”

The cats are believed to be the last remaining “tenants” of the South Topanga Canyon Lane neighborhood, whose human inhabitants relocated when the land was bought by State Parks.

“This was an accumulation of cats from that entire area that people fed but never really took responsibility of,” Norris said.

The abandoned house that the cats were using as shelter, which was gutted by a fire last November, previously belonged to Ginger Kershner, owner of Malibu’s Ginger Snips Salon and Spa. The house, which is scheduled to be demolished, is the last one standing in the neighborhood. The rest have already been torn down.

“The land is slated to become a picnic-type area,” said Supervising Ranger for Topanga State Park Steven Byland, who, regarding the cat situation, noted that he was “really happy with this outcome. This is the best alternative.”

A local feline rescue project, organized by Norris, Topanga Animal Rescue and the Malibu Animal Hospital, now needs public support in the form of either adoptions and/or donations. Anyone interested in either adopting a cat and/or making a donation can contact the hospital at 310.456.6441 or Topanga Animal Rescue at 310.455.7268.

“Now comes the hardest part, finding people who will take them and love them,” Norris said.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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